Rocker Joan Jett, whose numerous chart-topping rock anthems will forever inspire fist-pumping sing-alongs and underwhelming drunken karaoke routines, is feeling political. On Sinner, her first studio album in more than a decade, Jett gets away from the jukebox and shimmies onto her soapbox, aiming her signature power chords at the current administration.
“I think what we’re trying to say,” offers Jett over the phone (in a voice so raspy and weathered that I thought I’d been put through to Joan Rivers by accident.), “is [that we’re] noticing what’s going on in our country and I’m wondering, does anyone else see it or am I crazy? That’s really all I’m trying to ask.”
It’s been more than 30 years since the iconic singer and guitar player (now 47) began her career with teenage girl group the Runaways. She went on to form her own group, the Blackhearts, and pen a number of hits that are still smeared across the pop-culture landscape like so much black eyeliner. Fans will be screaming along with lines like “I love rock ‘n’ roll, so put another dime in the jukebox baby!” long after anyone still remembers jukeboxes (or, at the very least, that they ever took dimes). She’s kept busy, playing and putting out albums pretty consistently for the past 20-odd years: Jett and the Blackhearts’ appeal reaches everyone from leather-jacket clad punk rockers (she just finished a two-month stint with the Warped Tour) to troops in Afghanistan (where she performed with nothing but a guitar and battery-powered amp).
“As a citizen, a citizen who goes and plays for our troops in battle zones, I think I have a right to speak up,” declares Jett, who opens Sinner with an attack on what she describes as the Bush administration’s garbled messages to the American people. “How can this be? Why can’t you see? That they just speak at us in Riddles,” Jett wails in “Riddles,” segueing into samples of metaphor-mixing Bush-babble about the known knowns that we know we don’t know, and whatnot. “I believe that this administration uses language in a very confusing manner,” says Jett. “Up is down, black is white, in is out.”
Sinner also includes poignant covers of the classic rock anthem “A.C.D.C.” by legendary British group, the Sweet, as well as The Replacements’ “Androgynous.” “A.C.D.C.” is an unapologetic ode to bisexuality and polyamory, while “Androgynous” lays out an updated, gender-bending version of “Dick and Jane.”
How do audiences, perhaps expecting Jett and the Blackhearts’ performances to beam them back to the ’80s, react to such edgy and opinionated subject matter? “I think people are receptive,” Jett explains, “because I just want to talk about issues. I’m not trying to call anyone a moron. I’m hoping that if we can just talk as people who all love the country and just want what’s best, then we can have some kind of a conversation. Because when you have a finger pointing at the other person, you have four fingers pointing back at yourself.”
But Sinner isn’t just a civil discourse on current events. The songs are driven by the same poppy, punk-tinged hard rock one would expect from a Blackhearts’ album, with about half of the songs being as easy to swallow as “Crimson and Clover” or “Bad Reputation” ever were.
“We dive into a little bit of politics and some spirituality, and that’s a little different for me, but as far as everything else goes … relationships, love, sex, that’s all pretty much what people would expect from me,” Jett says.
And, yes, all you radio-rock lovers: “We still play all of our hits. We don’t short people on that level,” Jett assures me.
[Freelance writer and cartoonist Ethan Clark is a regular contributor to Xpress].
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts perform at The Orange Peel on Sunday, Nov. 19. $25. 225-5851.